World Density of Languages.

Benjamin Hennig at Geographical posts about a very nice visualization:

The Glottolog database was used in this month’s cartogram to highlight the geographic distribution of language diversity around the world. The main locations of each entry from the database were used to calculate the density (and diversity) of languages in their spatial distribution. The cartogram therefore shows larger areas where there is a relatively higher diversity of languages. This is also reflected in the differently shaded colours overlaid.

The highest language diversity in the world can be found in Africa and Asia, both with more than 2,000 living tongues. At the other end of the geographic spectrum lies Europe with only around 250 living languages and dialects spoken.

Note that the first map has no labels; scroll down for the one with labels (which you can, as they say, click to embiggen).


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Eat your heart out, Peters Projection!

    Beothuk? It’s a bit late to call it “endangered” …
    Cornish and Manx “critically endangered”? Kinda. But that’s actually a step up. I think “zombie” may be the word … (though I admire the brave reanimators.)

    And I feel honour bound to object to the headline: Mapping the World’s Dialects.
    Languages. Calling them “dialects” shows you’re part of the problem.

    In fact, what’s the deal with the names? Dutch? French? Latin?

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s worth saying that (happily) “relatively few speakers” does not actually automatically imply “endangered.” I’ve worked with people who spoke Moba and Gonja (two of the languages on the map) and am delighted to say they’re not endangered at all. French, on the other hand …

    Why has Sumerian been left off this map? Akkadian sabotage …

  3. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Hmm. I’m sure that there is plenty of interesting information there, but the presentation is awful. The designer of the map needs to buy all four of Edward Tufte’s books on presenting information and study them carefully.

    French, on the other hand …. Yes, you’re right: there are still a lot of French speakers, but French is never going to regain the prestige it had in the 19th century.

  4. “vulnerable – most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains (e.g., home)”

    By this definition, all languages of Africa are vulnerable.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    In fact, given the overwhelming domination of English in some domains, all languages are vulnerable except English.

    Until Mandarin is used as the standard language of international air traffic control, its future looks bleak.

    The vernaculars of Western Europe were not vulnerable in any meaningful sense in the days when if you wrote at all, you wrote in Latin (which is now endangered … Mutability!)
    To be fair, they’re using “vulnerable” in a technical sense, I guess.

  6. Until Mandarin is used as the standard language of international air traffic control

    The language of IATC is not English but a highly restricted code, about as English as most programming languages. Indeed, Bad Things have happened because the controller said go round (meaning, make another approach) which was heard as ground (or perhaps vice versa).

  7. David Eddyshaw says


    Then it’s worse than I thought. All languages are vulnerable. The Age of Aphasia awaits all.

  8. Seconding what John Cowan said, the language of IATC is very restricted. In English a word may serve as several different parts of speech–a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb. But in IATC every word is restricted to one and only one function. Plus an effort has been made to differentiate words that sound alike. This is not only true in air traffic control but also in areas such as writing service manuals for planes, etc.The aviation industry has put a lot of effort into making communications clear and unambiguous. This is essential because the majority of people working in aviation speak English as a second language.

    The subtlety of English is marvellous for literature, but when peoples’ lives are at stake, a different approach is required.

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